The Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) is one of the world’s premiere music education institutions, with esteemed alumni including the late Glenn Gould, jazz artist Diana Krall, the Gryphon Trio, and numerous others.
The RCM clarinet curriculum was completely redesigned in 2014. Clarinetist students now have a more streamlined, structured, system with 12 levels (Prep, 1-10, ARCT) just like the piano and string curricula. The new syllabus is available as a PDF for free to music educators and students around the world.
What is an RCM exam like?
The RCM playing test is called a Practical Examination and consists of relevant accompanied repertoire, etudes, technique (scales, arpeggios, articulations), sight reading, and ear training at all levels. Higher levels include an unaccompanied solo piece, as well as co-requisite examination requirements in music theory, harmony, counterpoint, history, and piano proficiency. Memorization is suggested but not required for repertoire and etudes, but is mandatory for the technique.
This book includes all the scale requirements from level prep to ARCT. The book functions essentially as a checklist, and students enjoy how they can get a sense of their progress at a glance. I like to further provide further visual aid for students and normally have them colour in the title of the scale when it is learned, place an “M” next to it for “memorized,” and then a check mark for each articulation pattern that is memorized with it.
The books serve their purpose well, but unfortunately don’t contain anything outside of the required scales themselves. Fortunately many other scale workbooks exist to supplement the lesson, albeit at additional cost to the student.
The etude book exists in two editions: Level Prep-4 and 5-8. Both are an absolutely fantastic “best of” collection of different etude books including pieces by Gates, Galper, Rae, Lester and long-time standards such as Baermann and Rose. Teachers and students alike will be pleased to see modern, jazzy, and klezmer-inspired works alongside more standard pieces we’ve all grown up with. I’ve personally been using these books with all my students, regardless of whether or not they are interested in taking RCM exams because they are just such a great way to try a lot of great repertoire for a fantastic price.
In the next edition I’d love to see a performance CD along with the etudes so students can listen, but for now it works just as well to perform and record the pieces in the lesson for the student to take home with them. The pieces are divided into two lists on the syllabus, but it is not always clear which pieces are which in the book at a glance. It would have been really nice to have this information included on each page to avoid having to access the syllabus during the lesson, which uses up valuable teaching time.
Just like the new etude books, the repertoire series is also a fantastic selection that spans many periods and styles. The vast majority of the pieces are accompanied, but starting at Level 4 there are offerings for unaccompanied solo performance pieces allowed. This gives students a taste of what the leter levels are like, where 2 accompanied pieces are required along with one solo piece. Unfortunately the repertoire and etude books are not available past Grade 8, even though the scales and orchestral excerpts are. Perhaps this will be added in future editions?
Each book includes the piano score, and a CD with performances of the pieces with clarinet intended for study, and ones without the clarinet intended for practice. I find it very helpful to import the music to the computer into a program such as Logic Pro’s “Varispeed” which allows the tempo of the music to be changed, but not everyone will have access to this kind of technology.
Having the recordings and practice tracks is really fantastic, because it allows the student to listen to and study each piece, and then prepare for the first rehearsal with the accompanist. However, the quality of the performances can be rather inconsistent, and the tempos don’t always align with the marked ranges on the score, but they serve their purpose very well overall and are great to have.
The orchestral excerpts is my favorite part of the entire collection. Although it is not a comprehensive list that many professionals might come to expect, this is exactly what makes it so wonderful for students. The book itself is unimposing, easy-to-read, organized by level, includes bar numbers, and does not add bulk to the student’s music bag like larger collections. It would have been nice if a secondary table of contents listed pieces by composer for quick reference, but such a minor detail should not detract from the book itself especially when it is used for its intended purpose as an examination reference.
I think that the RCM has done a great service for the clarinet community by licensing pieces which often do not appear in other collections due to copyright restrictions (or because they were written after other collections were printed). Such gems include the famous solos from Kodály’s “Dances of Galanta,” Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” Shostakovich’s “9th Symphony,” and, of course, Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.” Students and professionals alike will surely want to add this book to their collection.
Overall the collection is a fantastic effort to bring streamlined, structured music education to the RCM program. Minor improvements could always be suggested but we as teachers are very fortunate to have such a comprehensive, well-conceived set of teaching materials to work from. I look forward to future editions from the Royal Conservatory!